Community in an Age of Screens

We're a dot, but that dot means a lot.

We’re a dot, but that dot means a lot.

Maybe it was just the holidays.

I hope not.

But there seems to be a feeling in the air–a desire to reconnect, a hunger for progress and a passion for community taking root in Delray Beach again.

Everywhere I roam–the breakfast places, the Chamber, Old School Square, the Coffee District, downtown, holiday parties and in my email inbox–I’m hearing from people who are tired of feeling tired, angry at feeling angry and itching to feel productive again.

They want to build. They want to grow and prosper. They want to lead. They want to feel connected to something other than a smartphone screen.

They don’t want to simply see things happen, they want to make things happen.

We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Is it real or a mirage?

I guess we will see.

2016 for many people was not a very good year.

We lost a lot of icons–Ali, Bowie, Prince, John Glenn, George Michael on Christmas Day, Carrie Fisher and her mother just after Christmas.

The presidential election was brutal.

There’s opiate addiction, division, violence, racism, terrorism and hacking. I was hacked myself—as was a young man I mentor (and he mentors me). He ended up as part of an international news story, but that’s a tale for another day.

A writer I admire wrote this on Christmas Day. His name is Bob Lefsetz and he writes mostly about music, but also about life.

“I don’t know why we hate each other so much. I don’t know why certain people believe they have the answers. I don’t know why society has become so coarse.

But I do know at the end of the day we’re just people, here for a very short time. And what makes us feel best is to be part of a community.

Choose yours. Just be sure to join; to belong.  Because people will surprise you. When you’re down and out they’ll lend a hand. They’ll listen to you.”

Well we are about to find out.

There’s an election in March.

Two seats are up for grabs on a City Commission that is divided and angry with one another.

Already 8 candidates and maybe more are lining up.

This ought to be fun.

There are two ways this can play out.

We can have a somewhat civilized election focused on ideas or we can roll around in the gutter for a few months.

The last few election cycles have not been high water in marks in terms of political discourse.

You’d have thought we were living in war torn Libya based on the negativity; not a nice city with rising home values, a thriving downtown and amazing assets.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems.

Opiate addiction, property crime and unsavory sober home operators are among the complex issues facing Delray.

A lack of middle class housing options, schools that continue to struggle and very high commercial rents are also challenges that deserve our attention.

Let’s see if any of these are addressed in the upcoming election.

All of the challenges we face require community to either overcome or improve. Nobody has all the answers—even if some pretend they do—but there’s no denying that cities, businesses and organizations function better when people work together. Dismiss that simple premise as sentimental claptrap, but it’s also true. A unified, focused and sustained community effort can and has made all the difference in this city.

The other “issues” we face and talk about are manufactured: i.e. self-imposed.  We choose function or dysfunction.

For example:

Civility is a choice.

Micromanaging  is a choice.

Being able to compromise is a choice.

Majoring in the minor is a choice.

Address those and you’ll be able to quickly stop the attrition at City Hall and begin to establish stability.

Whether we progress or decline is a choice.

If you want to see an iPic downtown you can make it happen.

If you want to settle a lawsuit–you can.

It’s really not that hard. Unless of course, you make it so. I’m afraid, that we have made it so.


A quick word about recent elections and endorsements.

A reader recently questioned my judgment in recent election cycles. That’s fair game. But before you draw a sweeping conclusion it’s helpful to know all of the facts as well as the context of the times.

But first a little background on what I’ve learned in observing local government for 30 plus years.

Truth is, being an elected official is the equivalent of an MRI. It reveals who you really are.

All of us have strengths and weaknesses and being an elected official will reveal both. There is no hiding in public office.

Hopefully your strengths outweigh your weaknesses and hopefully you can work on those weaknesses because public service provides a unique opportunity for personal growth and yes service to others, which sometimes gets lost.

The reader said she agreed with many of my views but felt that my endorsements in recent cycles contradicted my writing.

I appreciate the comment because it allows me to clear the air. (Wishful thinking?).

The only elected official currently serving that I have endorsed is the mayor, during his first run for office. I was off the team early after one group meeting and a few personal attempts to discuss areas of differences that didn’t go very far. These things happen—and while they are not happy occasions– life goes on.

In the last mayoral election, I voted for other items on the ballot, but I didn’t vote for either mayoral candidate even though I know both men and have considered them friends over the years. I was disappointed in the campaigns that both waged and have said so in this space several times and in personal conversations.

I feel they mischaracterized the state of our city, its history, its achievements and its character.

In prior years, I proudly endorsed Fred Fetzer, whom I served with against a candidate who I never heard of before (and never have seen since) and Gary Eliopoulos who is a close friend and deeply experienced in all things Delray. He’s also really funny and trust me when I say that we need humor in government.

I also endorsed another former colleague Pat Archer in her attempt at a comeback and my neighbor and friend Bruce Bastian who lacked a long local resume but whose calm demeanor and maturity would have been welcomed today. I watched my friend get unfairly labeled—in my opinion– but  I also understand that entering the kitchen means you sign up for the heat.

Ideally, we are able to choose candidates that have long track records of community involvement. Those are the candidates who know our city best and those we know best. Or we think we know….heavy sigh.

As I have mentioned earlier, there’s something about a commission seat that reveals layers we may not have seen before–some good, some not so good. And so sometimes we miss on the people we think we know. I wish I had better radar, because life would be far less painful. And I have questioned my judgment many times in an attempt to be better and to learn.


Because these things matter and they are important. And so when you tell friends that you are behind a candidate and that you believe in them, it’s a significant limb you are choosing to walk out on. It’s also a risk, because sometimes you are wrong. Sometimes the candidates don’t turn out to be who you thought or hoped they would be. And sometimes, you have to look in the mirror and say you missed. And sometimes you get fooled.

Not to minimize or skirt the issue, but I have learned that mistakes are seldom fatal and that success is never final.

My view is pretty basic. I’m a long term player. I don’t try and pick winners. I try and help the candidates I feel (emphasis on feel not know) will move the city forward.  I have backed people I knew would lose but they were– in my opinion anyway– the better candidate.

I’ve made some bad picks too, but as soon as I see someone veer off the rails into behavior I think will hurt Delray, I point it out.

It has cost me some relationships. No doubt about it.

Sometimes speaking your mind gets you banished—you wander the desert so to speak. But I’ve also learned that the truth is a stubborn thing, it tends to get in the way of rumors, misinformation and lies. In my book, I wrote about being the subject of criticism. As someone who likes to be liked, it was a hard lesson to learn. But I learned that while nobody has all the answers or is always right, if you know who you are and have the right motivations—for example the community’s interests over self-interest—the criticism– (if false)  doesn’t stick over time and your true friends see the real you and stick by you because they know who you are.

I don’t mean that to be flippant because losing a relationship is never pleasant. It hurts. But I’m not the type who can stand by silently or sanction behavior just because of a personal relationship.

Ultimately that is not being a friend–a nuance missed by a few folks.

I’d rather be on the outside than pretend just to go along to get along. You pay a short term price for that sometimes. But never a long term one.

I’ve learned that the politicos come and go, but those who are doing the real work in the community stay—if we’re lucky.

I’d rather support their work than pretend or grade on a curve. In business, the adage is to fail fast and move on. If you can’t agree, try and fix it, but if that’s impossible there’s no sense pretending. I don’t think that’s being a real friend or a good citizen. I aspire to be both.

There are political insiders who think they know me when they don’t. Some of my biggest critics are people I’ve never had a conversation with and couldn’t pick out of a line-up. Others do know me and we just don’t see eye to eye.

Some see things that aren’t there and they think I’m “behind” people I’m not.

That goes with the territory I suppose.

But if I support someone you’ll know it. I tend to talk and write–and then talk and write some more. And now that I co-own a newspaper—well… we buy ink by the barrel.

If I think you’re good for Delray I will say so. If I think your bad for the city I love I will say so as well. It’s not personal, even if I don’t like you or even if I think you’re wonderful.

It’s about Delray.

It has been for 30 years now.



  1. Good for you!!!- I wish everybody will think and act like you,en reference of our beloved Delray Beach.Congratulations!!!

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